In every place I’ve lived in the US and Europe, I have regarded any non-mammalian creature as an unwelcome intruder in my home (and even some mammalian ones, e.g. rodents).
If I encountered one of these intruders indoors, I would usually take steps to extirpate them, either through immediate and targeted action against an individual member (such as squashing a spider with toilet paper and flushing it down the toilet), or through more patient subterfuge aimed at an entire species (such as vinegar traps set for fruit flies).
Here in Kampala, however, it is an inescapable fact that our apartment is a complex ecosystem, of which I am but one actor, who is in turn dependent on other actors. I therefore have to more carefully consider my relationship to the other species that frequent our flat, as it would be unwise, not to mention impossible, to combat all of them.
I have developed the following taxonomy of fellow apartment-dwelling species. I group them thusly:
- Enemies of Enemies (et ergo friends)
In each of these groups, at least one archetype can be identified:
These little guys are indubitable allies. Not only are they so dadgummed cute, but they eat insects, which is a very helpful and, in this apartment, sustainable diet. If I am the US, these lizards are the UK — sometimes they may be a bit frightened by me, their larger, more destructive ally, but we are allies nevertheless. We share the same goals and values and are committed, even if unwittingly, to each other’s well-being.
Some of you dear readers will say “Ah yes, we have cockroaches here in (INSERT YOUR NON-AFRICAN PLACE OF RESIDENCE), too. While it’s true that cockroaches are indeed a global phenomenon, they are nowhere more insufferable than in Africa, where they are big and plenty.
To continue the analogy, the cockroaches are my North Korea — threatening but always in search of food aid from me — or perhaps my Al-Qaeda — small, disparate bands exploiting the asymmetry of our conflict, and often found hiding in dark places.
Spiders = Enemies of Enemies
Take that, you little bastard!
The spider is helpful to me insofar as it hunts my main enemy. It is the Iraq to my Reagan or the Stalin to my Roosevelt; stripped of all context, I probably would never consider it a friend, but given the particularities of the situation, I aid and abet the spiders, allowing their cobwebs to remain in strategic corners, and trying to steer fleeing cockroaches in their direction.
Nevertheless, I remain wary of this ally, and hope my current support doesn’t come back to bit me, literally or figuratively.